Occupy Critical Thinking (Part One)

Posted by Judy Anne Cavey on Nov 9, 2011 in , , | 2 Comments

In a recent article, employers complained younger workers don’t have Critical Thinking skills.

Having read that statement, (and using my Critical Thinking skills) I didn’t feel it was completely accurate, especially in light of certain political developments world-wide involving people under 30 years old. The article pointed out employers believed older workers had the edge, possessing more Critical Thinking skills than their younger coworkers.

What I know is this: Critical Thinking skills continue to be in demand and younger workers must convey they possess them.

What is Critical Thinking?

President Thomas Jefferson said it best–”the art of reasoning”–describes Critical Thinking accurately. According to authors and college educators, Joel Rudinow and Vincent E. Barry, in their book Invitation to Critical Thinking (2008), it is defined as follows: “We think of Critical Thinking as a set of conceptual tools with associated intellectual skills and strategies useful for making reasonable decisions about what to do or believe. That fancy-sounding formulation can be condensed into this: Critical Thinking is using reason to make up your mind.”

Based on the above statement, we can deduce that Critical Thinking involves the act of truth-seeking. Truth to some people, is not easily defined, rather they believe there is no absolute truth. However, there are “truths”, for example: do you tell the truth to friends and family? Or, are your communications with people regularly peppered with non-truths–lies–as protection from their judgment?

Imagine if we lived in a world where, on a regular basis, the fact of matters were ignored, and no one bothered to seek out the truth? Would you want to live in a world like that? I wouldn’t!

Why is Critical Thinking Important?

We’ve all met individuals or groups of people which have strong opinions about a subject. But, we might not understand how they came to believe what they do based on what we personally know. Or, in certain cases, their truth seems unreasonable. An example from Rudinow and Barry’s book discussed the Heaven’s Gate cult, 39 members believed they must commit suicide (and did) when the Hale-Bopp comet made an appearance in 1997. The question posed in the book was, “How is it that reasonable people come to hold unreasonable beliefs?” Perhaps they came to an unreasonable decision based on a faulty belief system based on non-truth? Whatever the answer, the assumptions they made were presuppositions, seemingly intelligent people made a devastating mistake.

Let’s look at a common practice taking place on college campuses everyday as another example–binge drinking. Most college students are labeled “intelligent”, yet a large percentage (38%) engage in binge drinking on a regular basis. The facts are, binge drinking is extremely damaging to every organ of the body–especially the brain and liver–so why would a group of seemingly intelligent people, who know these truths, still participate? Along with binge drinking comes a list of serious personal consequences; DUI’s, wrecked cars, sex that took place because of lowered inhibition, rape and even death. Students who binge drink have experienced all, or some of these, so why would intelligent people continue to do it? Is the truth not important, or do they have presuppositions–unreasonable assumptions they are invincible?

We can see from these two examples that Critical Thinking is important to differentiate between reality and fantasy, and what is good for us and what isn’t, based on fact or truth.

Critical Thinking and Politics

As I mentioned, we’ve seen how Critical Thinking was used (mainly by people under 30 years old) in recent political uprisings around the world. All of us watched as scores of young demonstrators, fed up with the political systems in their countries, overthrew powerful leaders. In the U.S., “Occupy Wall Street” is basically a movement by young demonstrators, unhappy with the inequities that exist within the investment, banking and mortgage industries along with the wealthy “1%” who control those industries. Crushing student loan debt for their college education, and not many job possibilities after graduation, were additional sore spots.

How did these movements come into being and become so well-organized? Young technology savvy demonstrators using their Critical Thinking skills, cell phones and computers, that’s how!

With the advent of the Great Recession, people began to reevaluate life in general. What they discovered were truths that angered them. These truths didn’t materialize over night, many truths had been around for decades. So what set the wheels in motion for so many people to “discover” these truths? It had a lot to do with job loss, foreclosures, corrupt or inept leaders and industries, even hunger. The Great Recession, in a sense, forced truth to be acknowledged.

*See Part Two of Occupy Critical Thinking on Thursday.

If we want to understand something very complex, we must approach it very simply, and therein lies our difficulty–because we always approach our problems with assertions, with assumptions or conclusions, and so we are never free to approach the humility they demand. -Jiddu Krishnamuti